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Pupil Workload-reduction Proposals Draw Heavy Feedback

Xinhua News Agency, September 6, 2013 Adjust font size:

A regulation drafted by Chinese educational authorities to reduce the academic burdens of elementary school students triggered so many public suggestions that an extra round of solicitation has had to be arranged.

The previous round drew nearly 6,000 pieces of advice before ending on Aug. 29, and led to such detailed revisions as "students in grade four to six should have less than one hour of written homework per day" instead of "all elementary school students should not have written homework."

The draft came after repeated outcries from Chinese parents over the huge academic pressure faced by their children, who are usually characterized by near-sight glasses and heavy school bags.

"This round of opinion solicitation was not originally on the official agenda. It reflects much debate triggered by the previous version of the draft as well as educational authorities' serious attitude on this issue," said Chu Zhaohui, a researcher with the National Institute of Education Sciences.

Latest revisions also led to stipulations that school-wide exams should be held once every semester for only Chinese and math in and above grade four, excluding English. Meanwhile, the demand that students get "one hour of exercise per day" was moved up from the ninth article to the fifth in a signal that it should enjoy priority over exams.

The topic of burden reduction for students first emerged in China in the 1950s, but it remains a hard-to-solve issue with many schools flouting rules to bulk up their curriculum. Often, such moves are done with the support of parents who wish their children to gain an upper hand in the fierce competition for marks and jobs.

However, Chu has concerns over such detailed rules, warning, "There is a bottom line for good education, and that is giving teachers the right to reach professional decisions themselves."

"Teachers' independent educational right will be shelved if these new rules go even so far as to stipulate how much homework to set... and if this goes on, there will come a time when neither educational authorities nor teachers can be held righteously accountable for future problems," he said.

Describing the new draft as a "double-edged sword" that not only limits students and teachers but also weakens the credit of government departments, the researcher called for changes to the school management and evaluation mechanism as the key measure.

"Without changes to the system, we'll only be walking in circles," Chu added.

The draft is open to public ideas from Thursday to Sept. 18.

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